The Dens Park club implemented across-the-board wage cuts in July and saw their top goalscorer take the opportunity to walk out. Kane Hemmings had originally agreed to a salary reduction but then staged an about-turn and eventually signed for Burton Albion. Hemmings was not the only one to depart. Out-of-contract club skipper Josh Meekings had already left after rejecting the new terms he was offered.
Perhaps most frustratingly of all, the player who many had identified as the catalyst for their better form from February onwards also left, though there was nothing Dundee could do about it. After all, Christophe Berra was not their player.
He belongs to Hearts, tonight’s opponents in a clash that is invested with a significance beyond the fact it is a televised curtain-raiser for the Championship season. The fixture – handily thrown up by a supposedly random computer algorithm - brings together personalities who featured so prominently in the summer’s voting chaos.
The SPFL sought to pass a motion to curtail last season and calculate the outcome of games left to play on an average points per game basis. Dundee voted – against the proposal, it emerged – but then were permitted to vote again, having been informed their original slip, sent via email, had been held up by the SPFL’s firewall.
Inviting fury and guaranteeing rancour, Dundee changed their vote to yes when they did eventually deign to cast it a few days later and in doing so sealed Hearts’ fate, with Dundee now in the knowledge they held the casting vote. They changed their mind in full knowledge of what it meant for the Tynecastle club, as well as Partick Thistle and Stranraer. All three clubs kick-off the new league season in a lower division than was the case when the pandemic hit.
Ann Budge, the Hearts owner, later revealed she had phoned John Nelms, the Dundee managing director, but had not had the courtesy of a reply other than a message – relayed via a third party – to say he was “sorry” for the about-turn. The television cameras will no doubt seek to capture the frosty nature – or otherwise – of their socially distanced greeting this evening.
Berra, meanwhile, is continuing his recovery from an Achilles problem. Berra and Dundee were good for each other last season. Circumstances – chiefly the arrival of a German manager who clearly didn’t rate the centre-half – allowed Dundee to bring Berra in on loan in January. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Morton on the opening day of February. Dundee have not conceded a goal since.
He might still be at Dundee had Hearts not been relegated and Daniel Stendel remained in charge. Berra managed to leave his mark in his brief time at Dens Park and indeed Dundee are still enjoying the fruits of his contribution.
It has not been widely recorded, but Dundee currently stand on the brink of equalling a club record run dating back to 1907 of seven consecutive competitive clean sheets stretching back to last season. They will do so with another shut-out against Hearts. Indeed, if they could include the ‘clean-sheet’ awarded after last week’s Betfred Cup tie against Forfar Athletic was cancelled due to a positive Covid-19 test in the opposition ranks, then they would already have equalled the record.
It will be a tough task restricting Hearts to no goals, particularly now former Dundee player and boyhood Dens Park fan Craig Wighton has found his shooting boots. But it’s a further incentive for Jack Hamilton, who will play at Tynecastle for the first time since leaving Hearts to join Dundee two years ago. He can only lay claim to one of the six consecutive clean sheets to date – the 2-0 Betfred Cup win against Brora Rangers last week. On-loan Celtic ‘keeper Conor Hazard helped Dundee record six consecutive shut-outs before the untimely end to last season.
Hamilton might be yet to convince all Dundee fans that he is the answer in goal but manager James McPake appears to have placed his trust in him. Supporters are more excited by what the midfield partnership of Graham Dorrans and Charlie Adam can bring to the side.
Ten years ago this week they played together at Hampden for Scotland against world champions Spain as the hosts fell to a 3-2 defeat. It’s testament to their undoubted talent that they won a combined 38 caps but the fact the last of these, for both men, came in 2015 also underlines why some have expressed concerns about Dundee’s lack of pace in midfield. Dorrans is 33-years-old, Adam 34.
Judging from pre-season friendlies and against the admittedly lowly Brora last Saturday, both look fit and eager to show what they can do. Adam has the added incentive of being a boyhood Dundee fan. He is on record as saying it would be a dream come true to lead Dundee back into the top-flight.
While Dundee supporters are relishing seeing Adam and Dorrans together, it’s the youth ranks that gives them hope for the future and suggests Gordon Strachan’s presence as technical director is already having the desired effect.
Max Anderson could well start for Dundee tonight – the 19-year-old midfielder did so last weekend and set-up his side’s second goal against Brora for Danny Mullen. Fin Robertson, still only 17-years-old, represents the club’s real crown jewels and might be played in a more forward position after making his breakthrough last season as a deep-lying midfielder. He recently signed a three-year extension to his contract, taking him to the grand old age of 20.
All eyes might be on Adam, but Robertson – another boyhood Dundee fan – could hold the key.